Unknowns of Belle Isle circuit challenges drivers
New venues can be challenge for any team competing in the IndyCar Series, but the Detroit Indy Grand Prix presented by Firestone could provide even more of a challenge to those still eligible for the 2007 IndyCar Series championship.
Unlike Iowa Speedway and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the other new venues the IndyCar Series visited this season, there was no testing allowed prior to the event. In fact, the Raceway at Belle Isle event will be the first time the IndyCar Series has raced its penultimate event without a previous race or test prior to race weekend.
"Detroit's going to be a bit of an unknown," said IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon, who carries a four-point lead over Dario Franchitti into the Sept. 2 event. "You have to go into it with an open mind and race it as if it was any other event."
With no prior testing at the Raceway at Belle Isle, some teams come into the race with several years of experience in Indy car racing to build upon. For some drivers, there are only good memories of Belle Isle.
Dario Franchitti won a CART event there in 1999 and has four top-five finishes in five starts on the course. Still, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion doesn't see his success on the street circuit as an advantage.
"(Tony Kanaan) and I have been around long enough that we actually raced on the short layout that we're going to use," Franchitti said. "It's a slightly different layout from the one I won on. I've seen some of the pictures and the layouts of the track, and I think we'll have an advantage in the first session, but by the end of that first session everyone will have it figured out."
Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing team chose to test at Sebring International Raceway instead of joining other teams who tested at Infineon Raceway prior to the Motorola Indy 300. The hope was the flat, bumpy surface at Sebring could translate into success in Detroit.
"Our test at Sebring was sort of more in line with trying to find grip on bumpy, low grip circuits," Dixon said. "Hopefully, we feel a little better with general grip and qualifying at Detroit, because I think that's going to be big. The track is different from when I last raced there. They tried to smooth out some sections and we really don't know how much grip or how bumpy the mid-section will be. But it will be the same for everyone."
Dixon, who recorded a pair of top-10 finishes at Belle Isle in Indy Lights, made his only CART start at Belle Isle in 2001, finishing 22nd. But even with his limited experience on the track, Dixon also doesn't see much of an advantage.
"Maybe it will in the first practice," Dixon said. "All season long, we've just gone to races and tried to go as quick as we could and win races. Racing with the points lead won't change that."